Tuesday, May 24, 2016

3 Years Down, 3 Weeks to Go...

Hey, y'all!

I never used to say "y'all," but four years of school in the South has me a changed woman.  Additionally, three years of competing for Miss New Jersey has changed me in ways I can only begin to recognize. I thought, being that we have three weeks until Miss NJ check-in, I would reflect on some of the ways my time with the Miss America Organization has made me not only a better competitor, but a better human.

My very first year competing for Miss New Jersey, I had come off of a three year break from pageantry after competing in the Miss America's Outstanding Teen Organization.  I had seen a lot of success as a "Teen," and honestly, expected to find the same in "Miss."  I competed for Miss Seashore Line, and outright lost. I say this not because I'm bitter, but because that experience made me better.  I did not win a single preliminary award, place as a runner up, or win a title in the triple-crown pageant.  That first local changed my perspective and taught me that no one can expect to succeed in this Organization just because 1. they have succeeded before or 2. they have worked hard.  Everyone works hard.  Everyone puts in the time and effort it takes to be a competitor.  I left that first pageant accepting the fact that perseverance is the key to success, which would prove to help me for years to come.

After winning a local title and securing my spot in the Miss New Jersey 2013 competition, I counted down the days until my first Miss NJ week.  When it finally came, I was itching with excitement and looking forward to having the time of my life.  I woke up each morning thrilled to find out what the day would bring and was utterly shocked to make the top five on Saturday night.  I was lucky enough to hold Cara McCollum's hands as she found out she would be the next Miss New Jersey.  Today, I feel even luckier than I did that night to have shared such a special moment with such an impactful woman.

I entered my second year determined to be "Carol's girl" and secure the Miss Seashore Line title.  Not only did I secure my spot for the state competition by winning that title, I secured a new family member in Carol Taylor.  It's no secret that Carol is a New Jersey pageant legend with her honest opinions and ability to make any crowd laugh with her sarcastic humor.  She hates her picture taken, but I snuck a few during our time together and ultimately, was lucky enough to place first-runner up to Cierra Kaler-Jones at Miss NJ 2014.  This was the year that I was reminded that you can work hard and do your best, but at the end of the night, lots of girls have done the same.  Cierra captivated the judges and was an incredibly active and inspiring Miss New Jersey.  I am glad to have been able to watch her reign and to have the opportunity to learn from her generous heart.  Again, perseverance is key.
I entered my third year in hopes that I could represent my home county, Gloucester.  I won the title and with it, my pageant sister, Kelcie.  We had become friends our first year at Miss NJ as roommates, but this year together brought us even closer.  We worked tirelessly at the gym, in mock interviews, in our communities, and watched countless hours of state pageant DVDs and Miss America top five interviews.  Our directors, Tracy and Sandi, became family and we enjoyed spending every waking moment together!
We also somehow managed to unintentionally match at every single appearance for a year straight...
As this was my third year vying for the title and I was feeling the pressure of being 1st runner-up twice in a row, Kelcie developed a sixth sense for my stress.  She would look at me and say, "stop thinking so much."  It's not every day that you find a friend so in tune with your own thoughts that they actually read your mind.  I will always be thankful for Kelcie's calming demeanor and silly antics for keeping me sane.  This year I learned that stress and pressure are detrimental to not only success, but to your own happiness.  I was so worried about doing better than I had in previous years (aka the only other option would be winning...) that I was unable to enjoy my time.  Placing 2nd runner-up was a blessing in disguise- I finally felt the weight of pressure fall off my shoulders.  I had done "worse" than I had before, and I was fine- breathing, smiling, walking in 6 inch heels.  I learned my third year at Miss New Jersey that not winning wouldn't kill me.

This year, I am happy to say that I am at perfect peace with the experiences I've had and the work I've done.  I have enjoyed getting the opportunity to be "Carol's girl" again and cherish every moment I spend with my directors, pageant sisters, fellow contestants, and pageant family.  Through years of success, rejection, smiles, and tears, I have learned that while hard work and perseverance are necessary, so is happiness.  For three years I have worked hard and persevered in this organization, and for the next three weeks I will continue to do so and to focus all my energy on trusting in the process and enjoying my time.

21 days until the next Miss New Jersey week begins and I cannot wait to see what lessons I'll learn alongside my fellow contestants!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


It's been a little while, but I'm back on the blogging grind and excited to update you on my pageant journey!  For the past few months I have been focusing on completing one of the biggest accomplishments of my life- graduating from a four year university.

Photo Courtesy: Molly O'Keefe

On May 7th I was blessed to have been awarded my Bachelors of Science in Psychology degree from High Point University.  As I listened to Condoleezza Rice address my classmates and I, one part of her speech resonated with me: Dr. Rice told the story of her grandfather and his journey to securing an education for himself.  She told us about her college experience and said, "education is a privilege, not a right."  Her words reminded me that I am extremely lucky to have been given the opportunities that I have and urged me to continue working hard for the things I want in life.  As Miss New Jersey preparation is in full swing, this notion is relevant in many ways.  Being involved in the Miss America Organization is such a privilege- my fellow contestants and I have worked extremely hard preparing a talent, staying physically fit, processing public speaking, and nurturing our communities.  In one month, a woman will wear the Miss New Jersey crown and begin the journey of a lifetime, but only after she proves that she earned that privilege.

I'm elated to have this opportunity for the fourth time and am eager to share some "fun stuff" now that the competition begins in less than one month!  On Tuesday, June 14th, I will check-in to Miss New Jersey week as contestant number 14 in group A! I selected my placement first of all contestants thanks to the many business owners, family, and friends who placed advertisements in the program book.  I, with the help of Mantua Township Deputy Mayor Zimmerman, collected $5,300.00 worth of ads!  That money goes directly to the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation and becomes scholarship money for award winners at this year's pageant.  Being in Group A means I will compete in Talent on Thursday, June 16th, and Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit/Evening Gown and Onstage Question Friday, June 17th.  On Thursday night, I will sing on the Miss New Jersey stage for the first time.

Miss New Jersey Orientation 2016
Photo Courtesy: Richard Krauss
"The Shore Girls" at Miss New Jersey Orientation 2016  
Photo Courtesy: Richard Krauss

While I have always been a "singer," performing with my High School Vocale Ensemble and in musicals throughout my life, performing as a singer at Miss New Jersey is a foreign experience for me.  
The Wizard of Oz, Clearview High School 2012 (Maybe I should have brought back "Over the Rainbow" for my talent ;)

I am aware of the many people who question why I changed my talent or doubt whether it will pay off- I can pretend that their skepticism does not affect me, but I think it would be a disservice to me and any of the young girls who consider me a role model.  Vulnerability is uncomfortable, but it is also necessary for growth.  Yes, I am nervous to debut a "new" talent at a state competition- but I think this is why I'm so incredibly excited as well.  I chose to sing this year because I wanted to push myself and step out of my own comfort zone.  I wanted to show my Little Stars and mentees that your decisions are your own and no one else's.  I want them to know that they can do whatever they set their minds to, and no one's doubt will change the outcome.  This year, I am singing "Someone Like You" from Jekyll and Hyde for my talent on the Miss New Jersey stage and I'm actually giddy thinking about it!

Friday night, I will wear my gown from The Right Fit- shout out to you, Debbie, for always making me feel like a million bucks!

I will also wear a swimsuit from our sponsor, Irene West!  I am working hard to be at my personal best for the swimsuit competition and need to thank Training Aspects one thousand times over for their support and expertise.  I have been working with them to achieve my fitness goals for three years and could not be more thankful for our friendship.

 Thank you, Irene, for sponsoring not only the Miss New Jersey pageant for the second year, but for sponsoring the Miss America pageant this coming September!

We've been through many pageant titles, workouts, and shenanigans- wouldn't have it any other way!

Last, I am thrilled to share with you the Miss New Jersey parade theme, "Miss New Jersey in Toyland!"  Each year, Ocean City welcomes our organization for the week and starts the festivities with a "Show Me Your Shoes" parade, following the Miss America tradition.  For this year's event, I will be portraying Legos! Let's just say this theme has proven to be lots of fun and plenty of painful moments stepping on Legos strewn around my house (sorry, mom and dad).  The parade is Wednesday, June 15th and free for any boardwalk goers!

As I continue working hard to earn the Miss New Jersey title, I am reminded just how privileged I have been my entire life to have my family and friends.  While lots of graduates are busy celebrating, my friends spent last night with me gluing Legos onto a pair of heels.  While many Moms would spend their lunch break relaxing, my Mom spends her free time chatting with me about politics, walking alongside me while I do park bench burpees, and looking for the perfect interview shoes.  While most people spend their time and money on a nice summer vacation, 65 of my friends and family chose to come to Ocean City, NJ to watch me pursue my dreams.  I am utterly bewildered by how supported I am, near and far.  Thank you simply does not cover it.  For the next month, I will show my gratitude by busting my booty and working hard to make my dreams a reality!

Official Headshot, Photo Courtesy: Richard Krauss